July 29, 2020
Photos and Words by: Caroline Chia

(Photo above) Ms Mae Tan, Ms Denise Tay and Ms Michelle Lau set up the #KampungKakis platform – a neighbourhood buddy system to help those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.


hen the Covid-19 pandemic affected Singaporeans in many ways, from reduced social interaction among the elderly to job and income loss, three young women saw the need to provide community support to the people in their neighbourhoods.

Enter the #KampungKakis – a neighbourhood buddy system that pairs a kaki-in-need (beneficiary) to volunteers known as ‘Kakis’. 

The idea came about because one of the three founders, Ms Mae Tan, was hospitalised when she contracted Covid-19. Ms Tan, 28, was case number 827.

“Faced with a potentially lethal virus, I thought about what I would regret if I were to die the next day. Have I left this world in a better place than when I entered it?” asked Ms Tan.

Unable to check her email or watch Netflix due to the weak wifi connection, she was forced to be “fully present and aware of [her] experiences in the hospital”.

During her stay, she witnessed the difficulties older patients had to bear with and she learnt of the worries others had about losing their income. 

Inspired by the healthcare workers around her who risked their lives to treat patients, the full-time product manager decided to use her recovery time to brainstorm ideas on how she could create a community support platform.

Together with Ms Denise Tay, 25, and Ms Michelle Lau, 26, they founded the #KampungKakis platform.

Reviving the Kampung Spirit
“Kampung” means village in Malay, and “Kakis” is the local term for buddies. So the #KampungKakis platform taps on help from those within the neighbourhood. To minimise travelling, Kakis are paired with a kaki-in-need who lives within a walking distance of 20 minutes.

Depending on the needs of the beneficiaries, Kakis may help in various ways, like buying groceries or checking-in on a neighbour. The flexibility allows more volunteers to chip-in within their capabilities and around their busy schedules.

For the elderly living alone, their interaction with neighbours and volunteers is essential to their daily lives. For some, this interaction is their only form of contact with the outside world.

“The human touch is irreplaceable,” said Ms Lau, a medical social worker in a hospice and the chairperson for Hong Kah North Zone 7 Residents’ Committee. “Neighbours and community assets are often untapped strengths in the social environment that we live in,” she added. 

Even as the country has eased its restrictions from the Circuit Breaker, many routines and activities for these elderly have not resumed as they are encouraged to stay home and away from crowds.

For others, the disruption to their lives in recent months may have been overwhelming, and not all know where to seek help.

Life, Interrupted
During the Circuit Breaker, a man from a low income family had lost his job and needed to care for his children, as well as his sick, elderly parents. He did not know where to turn to. 

When #KampungKakis heard about his plight, they matched him to a Kaki, who offered to cook meals for his family. This was done for a month until #KampungKakis found another organisation able to provide him and his family with meals. The family also received a laptop for their children’s home-based learning classes. Eventually, the family was put in touch with other organisations that could help him in the longer term.

Apart from pairing volunteers to beneficiaries, #KampungKakis also puts beneficiaries in touch with the right agencies for help.

“We thought many people would be hesitant to lend a helping hand due to the pandemic. Turns out that Singaporeans are much more selfless and giving.”

The group has partnered many other organisations to meet the needs of their beneficiaries. This includes student tuition support from NTU undergraduates, daily meals by Willing Hearts and additional financial assistance from the Mind the Gap Fund through A Good Space and the Cassia Resettlement Team.

The group has been surprised by the amount of help and volunteers they have. Barely three months old, #KampungKakis currently has more than 700 volunteers and 110 beneficiaries. 

“We thought many people would be hesitant to lend a helping hand due to the pandemic,” they said. “Turns out that Singaporeans are much more selfless and giving.”

However, in mature estates like Redhill and Jalan Kukoh, volunteers are still in need. In these neighbourhoods, some Kakis have had to take on helping more than two beneficiaries.

Growing to Address More Needs

The group has also received grants from The Majurity Trust, the oscar@sgfund by Temasek Trust and The Awesome Foundation. 

These funds have been used to purchase grocery packs, diapers and milk powder for those in need, said Ms Tay, a postgraduate looking for a job.

Despite their packed schedules, #KampungKakis has plans to introduce digital literacy to the elderly. 

They “witnessed how a widening digital divide during the Circuit Breaker period has resulted in more isolation and confusion amongst those who are not digital natives,” and hope to partner the Singapore Digital Office (SDO) to train their Kakis, who will then be able to teach and encourage the elderly to use applications like WhatsApp and social media.


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